Thursday, January 21, 2010

Program Notes: January 29-31

The VSO takes it on the road this month with a stellar program featuring a World Premiere of David Ludwig's Symphony No. 1, "Book of Hours," a performance of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto played by world-renowned pianist André Watts, and Mendelssohn's Hebrides. Jaime Laredo leads the charge in Bellows Falls (1/29), Burlington (1/30), and Rutland (1/31). Read the program notes and watch a multimedia program note on David's piece after the jump.

The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op. 26
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

By the time Mendelssohn was in his late teens, he had already achieved two compositional triumphs: his Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream and his Octet for Strings. His talents and gifts extended beyond music as well: in 1826 he enrolled at the University of Berlin, studying a variety of subjects from geography to aesthetics. He was quite a sketcher of landscapes, and he loved to travel.

It was on one particular trip to Scotland that Mendelssohn received the inspiration for The Hebrides. Along with his friend Karl Klingemann, Mendelssohn stopped first in Edinburgh, and then continued west to the Inner Hebridean islands, sketching landscapes as he went. On a sea voyage to the island of Staffa, Mendelssohn had his first glimpse of the spectacular Fingal's Cave, named for a hero of Scotch and Irish legend. Visitors can be rowed directly into the cave, two hundred and twenty-seven feet long, richly decorated with seaweeds, lichens, and stalactites, where the constant murmuring of the waves has given it another Gallic name, “the cave of music.” The story goes that Mendelssohn, upon first seeing the grandeur of the cave with its organ-like pillars of red-brown basalt and hearing the musical sounds made by the rushing water, immediately began to draft the opening melodies of the overture right there in the boat. In actuality, Mendelssohn's correspondence suggests that the themes occurred to him on the mainland of the Inner Hebrides before embarking. (While on board, Klingemann's writings confirm, Mendelssohn was much too seasick to be inspired!) In his letters, the composer refers to the work both as “The Hebrides” and “The Solitary Isle.” The first published score was entitled “Fingal’s Cave,” but the orchestra parts said “The Hebrides.” It has become customary to use both of the last designations.

The beginning motive, which reappears throughout, suggests the sound of waves rolling in and out of the cavern. In his three revisions of the piece, Mendelssohn tinkered extensively with the development section, which he worried "tastes more of counterpoint than of whale oil and seagulls." An exciting coda brings to a close a work which Wagner asserted to be "one of the most beautiful pieces we possess."

Symphony No. 1, "Book of Hours"
David Ludwig (1972- )

I. Matins & Lauds: i thank You God for most this amazing* – E.E. Cummings (1894-1962)
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

 *“i thank you God for most this amazing” from COMPLETE POEMS, by E.E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage, used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.  Copyright © 1950, 1978, 1991 by the Trustees for the E.E. Cummings Trust.  Copyright © 1979 by George James Firmage.

II. Prime: from The Book of Hours – Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
Ich lebe mein leben im wachsenden Ringen,
die sich über die Dingen ziehen.
Ich werde den letzen vielleicht nicht vollbringen,
aber versuchen will ich ihn.

Ich kreise um Gott, um den uralten Turm,
und ich kreise jahrtausendelang;
und ich weiß nocht nicht: bin ich ein Falke, ein Sturm
oder ein großer Gesang.

I live my life in growing rings
which spread around the things about me.
I might never accomplish the last one,
but that is what I will try to do.

I make circles around God, around that most ancient tower,
and I circle a thousand years long;
and I still do not know: am I a falcon, a storm
or a great song.

III. Terce: Sand – Sara Goudarzi (b. 1976)
If my memories were sand
with every wave they'd start anew

And dance
unconscious of earlier strikes to their grain

And journey
                       to every shell
                                                           and cranny

They'd sit on a child's foot and play in the Sun

or castle in the blue

They'd forget the once river rock they were
banging head with every curve
shattering each day

If my memories were sand
they'd merrily play wave after wave
and forget each spot every few

©2004 Sara Goudarzi Reprinted with the permission of the author. This poem first appeared in The Adirondack Review.
IV. Sext: The winds have died, but flowers go on falling; – Ryokan (1758-1831)

The winds have died, but flowers go on falling;
birds call, but silence penetrates each song.

The Mystery! Unknowable, unlearnable.
The virtue of Kannon.

V. None: Zwielicht – (“Twilight”) Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857)
(Music from R. Schumann’s Liederkreis)
Dämmrung will die Flügel spreiten,
Schaurig rühren sich die Bäume,
Wolken ziehn wie schwere Träume -
Was will dieses Grau'n bedeuten?

Hast ein Reh du lieb vor andern,
Laß es nicht alleine grasen,
Jäger ziehn im Wald und blasen,
Stimmen hin und wieder wandern.

Hast du einen Freund hienieden,
Trau ihm nicht zu dieser Stunde,
Freundlich wohl mit Aug' und Munde,
Sinnt er Krieg im tück'schen Frieden.

Was heut müde gehet unter,
Hebt sich morgen neu geboren.
Manches bleibt in Nacht verloren -
Hüte dich, bleib wach und munter!

Twilight begins to spread its wings,
The trees stir ominously,
Clouds come like heavy dreams --
What does this gloominess mean?

If you have a favorite little deer,
Do not let it graze alone;
Hunters roam the forest and blow horns,
Voices wandering in and out.

 If you have a friend down here below,
 Do not trust him in this Hour;
 He might he seem friendly in eye and mouth,
 But he makes plans for war in treacherous peace.

 What today descends wearily down,
 Will lift itself tomorrow born anew.
 Many things at night go lost--
 Guard yourself--be awake and alert!

VI. Vespers: from the Book of John 1:5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

VII. Compline: Hashkiveinu (“Lay us down”) – traditional
Hashkiveinu Adonai Eloheinu l'shalom,
v'haamideynu malkeinu l'chayim,

ufros aleinu sukat sh'lomecha,
v'takneinu b'eitzah tovah mil'fanecha,
v'hoshieinu l'maan sh'mecha
V'hagen baadeinu,

v'haseir meialeinu oyeiv, dever
v'cherev v'raav v'yagon,
v'haseir satan mil'faneinu umeiachareinu,
uvtzeil k'nafecha tastireinu,

ki El shomreinu umatzileinu atah,
ki El chanun v'rachum atah

Ushmor tzeyteinu u-vo-einu,
l'chayim ulshalom,
mei-atah v'ad olam,
ufros aleinu sukat sh'lomecha,

Baruch atah Adonai, hapores sukat shalom aleinu,
v'al kpl amo Yisrael, v'al Yerushalayim.
Grant us, oh God, that we lie down in peace
and raise us up, our Guardian, to life renewed.

Spread over us the shelter of your peace.
Guide us with Your good counsel; for your Name’s sake, be our help.
Shield and shelter us beneath the shelter of your wings.

Defend us against our adversaries,
illness, war, famine, and sorrow,
Remove evil from before us and behind us.

For you, God, watch over us and deliver us. 
For you, God, are gracious and merciful.

Guard our going out and coming in,
to life and to peace, for eternity.
Spread over us the shelter of your peace.

Blessed are you, oh God, whose shelter of peace is spread over us.
Over all of your people of Israel and over Jerusalem.

A thousand years ago, you would find a “Book of Hours” in many homes.  It was an illuminated prayer book, helping the reader keep God in mind during the hours of the day with prayers, psalms, and biblical excerpts.  Some were quite simple, with modest illustrations and text.  Others were luxuriously decorated and adorned in gilt illumination.

I think about the importance of prayer in our lives–more as a function of hope than as of a religious expression, even though that is its principal source.  Prayer is common to all societies and to people in all walks of life, in some form or another.  There are basic kinds of prayer: supplication, exaltation, those that show our humility, and those that ask for great things from the ether.  But whatever the purpose, all prayer unites us as human beings.  As we seem to perilously catapult into the 21st Century, I decided that my first symphony should be like a contemporary Book of Hours; a kind of musical “magical realist’s” take on what this prayer book would look like today, and, ultimately, a reflection of hope.

Taking my musical cues from the form of a traditional “Book of Hours,” I set the piece in seven movements from the Liturgy of the Hours that the Book helped to maintain.  I then chose accompanying poems from different times, places, and cultures to inspire the piece.  Some are religious meditations, while others are taken directly from scripture.  Others, still, are modern invocations of desires or dreams.  And so, as the times of day are kept in these poems–from the early morning and bright breaking of dawn to the black of night–so too does my own Book of Hours take the journey from brightness to darkness over the course of its twenty-five minutes.

The first movement, informed by the Cummings poem “i thank You God for most this amazing,” opens with the idea of the quiet solitude before dawn, represented in orchestral unity.  This unison motive introduces each movement, one way or another, throughout the piece, but is not fully realized until the very end.  After the brightness of the first movement are the hopeful sentiments of Rilke’s poem from a collection of his early works–also called “The Book of Hours.”  Rings in the shapes of the music reflect the importance of the rings in his life-affirming words.  The third movement is more contemplative, as is the poem “Sand,” by the wonderfully gifted Persian-American writer Sara Goudarzi.  A bell is heard in the opening of the piece to bring the listener into focus on the words; string chords wash over each other in the background while a solo cello wanders through the music.

The fourth movement uses the words of Zen poet Ryokan as a departure point to invoke the driving sound of Japanese taiko drumming (with slight adjustments made to the timpani!).  This is a transition to the looming darkness of the fifth: an orchestration and arrangement I have made of Schumann’s “Twilight”–itself a setting of poem by his contemporary Joseph Eichendorff.  This darkness descends into a kind of madness in the sixth movement, which is a frenetic fugue inspired by the words from the opening of the Gospel of John.  At the end of the movement, the music plunges finally into chaos.

Order is found again at the last part of the work as the solo horn ushers in the final seventh movement, the “Hashkiveinu.”  This is a traditional Hebrew prayer--something of the equivalent of “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep.”  I was both introduced to this liturgy and taught the translation and meaning of the words by Rabbi Daniel Sklar.  Dan also gave me a greater understanding of the importance of this text.  The night time prayer of antiquity was an earnest one–in the meagerness of life in ancient times even surviving the night was not a given.  How can we be sure that the sun will come up tomorrow?  But it does, and it always does, and so the ending of the Book of Hours is about not only the sun rising again, but of hope that we may continue to be reborn in our own lives, defiant of pain and violence, and stronger in our humanity together.

--David Ludwig

Piano Concerto No. 5, Op. 73, “Emperor”  
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Beethoven actually wrote seven works which could be called piano concertos.  The first was a manuscript of 32 pages, composed when he was all of fourteen years old.  There is, as well, a version of his violin concerto that he arranged for piano and orchestra.  The five piano concertos we accept as representative works were all written after the young composer had made Vienna his home.  Between 1798, the year that Beethoven composed and performed his first piano concerto, and 1809, the year he composed his final piano concerto, considerable changes had take place in both Beethoven and Vienna.

In 1808, Beethoven had premiered his Piano Concerto No. 4, with himself as the maestro and soloist as usual.  The event was chilling, both physically and emotionally.  The program was four hours long, the theater was freezing cold, and the conductor/soloist was deaf.  An eyewitness account by Ludwig Spohr described the debut of the piano concerto:  “It was by no means enjoyment, for, in the first place, the piano was woefully out of tune, which, however, troubled Beethoven little, for he could hear nothing of it; and, secondly, of the former so much admired excellence of the virtuoso scarcely anything was left, in consequence of his total deafness.…I felt moved with the deepest sorrow at so hard a destiny.”

By 1809, Vienna too was suffering a hard destiny under the siege and occupation of Napoleon after his victory at Wagram.  Beethoven would find refuge in his brother Carl’s basement when the bombardment grew too loud, covering his head with pillows to protect what little hearing he had left.  His republican sentiments betrayed by the predations of Napoleon and his financial situation eroded by the devaluation of Austrian currency, Beethoven had no love for the French invaders.  Seated in his favorite coffee house one day, he shook his fist at the back of a passing French officer.  “If I as a general,” he said, ”knew as much about strategy as I the composer know about counterpoint, I’d give you fellows something to think about.”

So it came to pass that the premiere of the Piano Concerto No. 5 was two years after the composition of the work; it was neither conducted nor performed by Beethoven; and it was not in Vienna.  It was first heard in Leipzig on November 28, 1811, under the baton of Johann Philipp Christian Schulz, with Friedrich Schneider as soloist.  The Allgemeine Musik Zeitung of the following January called the work “one of the most original, imaginative, and most effective, but also one of the most difficult of all existing concertos….  It could not have been otherwise than that the crowded audience was soon put into such a state of enthusiasm that it could hardly content itself with the ordinary expressions of recognition and enjoyment.”

The Vienna debut at the hands of Carl Czerny a couple months later was not as successful, with accusations thrown at Beethoven that he could be “understood and appreciated only by connoisseurs.”  It was this performance, however, which may have been the source of the concerto’s nickname, as a French army officer was supposed to have been overheard acclaiming the work as “an emperor among concertos.”  Most likely the nickname was endowed by an early publisher in an effort to convey the work’s “grand dimensions and intrinsic splendor.”  Certainly the name was not given by Beethoven:  he had no love for emperors of any sort, and was particularly stung by the behavior of his former hero, Napoleon.

I.  Allegro – After three sweeping introductory chords with piano flourishes, the principal theme is introduced by the orchestra.  A subsidiary theme is presented in pizzicato strings in Eb minor, and then heard in the horns in Eb Major.  The piano enters and offers its versions of the themes.  Development and dialogue lead to the point where a closing cadenza would be expected.  Here Beethoven instructs the pianist:  “Don’t make a cadenza here, but attack what follows immediately.”  It is actually Beethoven’s written-out version of a cadenza on the main two themes, and the orchestra accompanies the latter half of the cadenza in a closing coda.

II.  Adagio un poco mosso – Muted violins present a hymn-like melody, which is followed by “quasi-variations” in the piano (as Sir George Grove characterizes them).  After the third variation, the bassoons sustain a B-natural, and then the entire orchestra unceremoniously sinks a half step to a B-flat, over which the piano starts to toy with the rondo theme of the finale that follows.  There is no break between this movement and the finale.

III.  Rondo: Allegro – In a brilliant and unique invention, Beethoven presents interwoven rondo and sonata forms.  The surging opening theme is the refrain of a rondo, and the repeats of this first subject encompass the introduction and development of a second, more singing subject.  The intricacies of form are rendered invisible by the impression of complete spontaneity throughout the movement, which closes as piano chords descend and die away over a repeated rhythm in the timpani.
--Hilary Hatch

André Watts, piano

André Watts burst upon the music world at the age of 16 when Leonard Bernstein chose him to make his debut with the New York Philharmonic in their Young People's Concerts, broadcast nationwide on CBS-TV.  Only two weeks later, Bernstein asked him to substitute at the last minute for the ailing Glenn Gould in performances of Liszt's E-flat Concerto with the New York Philharmonic, thus launching his career in storybook fashion.  More than 45 years later, André Watts remains one of today's most celebrated and beloved superstars.

A perennial favorite with orchestras throughout the US, Mr. Watts is also a regular guest at the major summer music festivals including Ravinia, the Hollywood Bowl, Saratoga, Tanglewood and the Mann Music Center. Recent and upcoming orchestral engagements include appearances with the Philadelphia and Minnesota Orchestras, New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, and the St. Louis, Atlanta, Detroit, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Dallas, Seattle and National symphonies. During the 2009/10 season he travels to Japan in July to appear as a featured artist at the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo and returns in the fall for an extensive tour of recital and orchestral appearances.

André Watts has had a long and frequent association with television, having appeared on numerous programs produced by PBS, the BBC and the Arts and Entertainment Network, performing with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center among others.  His 1976 New York recital, aired on the program Live From Lincoln Center, was the first full length recital broadcast in the history of television and his performance at the 38th Casals Festival in Puerto Rico was nominated for an Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Individual Achievement in Cultural Programming. Mr. Watts’ most recent television appearances are with the Philadelphia Orchestra on the occasion of the orchestra’s 100th Anniversary Gala and a performance of the Brahms Concerto No.2 with the Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz conducting, for PBS.

Mr. Watts’ extensive discography includes recordings of works by Gershwin, Chopin, Liszt and Tchaikovsky for CBS Masterworks; recital CD’s of works by Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt and Chopin for Angel/EMI; and recordings featuring the concertos of Liszt, MacDowell, Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saens on the Telarc label. He is also included in the Great Pianists of the 20th Century series for Philips.

A much-honored artist who has played before royalty in Europe and heads of government in nations all over the world, André Watts was selected to receive the Avery Fisher Prize in 1988.  At age 26 he was the youngest person ever to receive an Honorary Doctorate from Yale University and he has since received numerous honors from highly respected schools including the University of Pennsylvania, Brandeis University, The Juilliard School of Music and his Alma Mater, the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University. In June 2006, he was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl of Fame to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his debut (with the Philadelphia Orchestra).

Previously Artist-in-Residence at the University of Maryland, Mr. Watts was appointed to the newly created Jack I. and Dora B. Hamlin Endowed Chair in Music at Indiana University in May, 2004.